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Historical fiction beginner

Historical Fiction

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Jan 11, 2016, 6:55am Top

I have just started reading historical fiction and wondered if you folks would be kind enough to recommend your top 10 favourite historical novels for me.
It would be much appreciated.


PS: I am not interested in novels set in WWI or WWII

Edited: Jan 11, 2016, 7:26am Top

To get you started, there's an earlier thread here where someone came up with a personal list of 100 and then revised it after we had all ripped it to shreds (in the nicest possible way): http://www.librarything.com/topic/141275

In this thread, we discussed the essential historical fiction that "everyone should read": http://www.librarything.com/topic/99651

Also have a look at some of the lists people have come up with - there's a generic "Historical fiction" list here: http://www.librarything.com/list/101/all/Best-Historical-Fiction
The name of the rose, The pillars of the earth, and Gone with the wind seem to be in the lead at the moment. There are also plenty of other lists for particular periods and styles, e.g. Victorian, military, naval, ancient world, ...

Jan 11, 2016, 3:00pm Top

It really depends on what type of historical fiction you like.

Military Historical Fiction (prior to 1900)

Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series beginning with Sharpe's Tiger is pretty hard to beat for the Napoleonic wars (a 20 book series)
Cornwell also wrote the Grail series starting with Harlequin and a standalone novel Azincourt where he describes the use of the English Long Bow... I am not a real fan of his Saxon series though.

CS Forrester is excellent in his Hornblower series which describes naval warfare during the Napoleonic wars starting with Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

Romance Historical Fiction

I am not a great lover of this type of book but I do like Winston Graham's Poldark series which describes Cornwall in the late 1600's to 1800 or so. The romance is there but not graphic and you really get a feeling of what it was like to live in England during that time.

Mystery Historical Fiction (my favourite area)

C.J. Sansom is amazing in his Shardlake series beginning with Dissolution. Set in the time of Henry VIII, Matthew Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer who fancies himself a ladies man but is shy about it because of his physical deformity. Ironically women do like him though due to admiring his intellect. Very rich in detail, excellent mysteries... the characters and sometimes the reader gets ticked off with Shardlake as when he investigates one mystery he finds a couple more in the process and the clues get mixed up but all is resolved in the end :)

Peter Tremayne with his "Sister Fidelma" mysteries is excellent and a 20 plus series of books (I've read 8 so far) starting with Murder by Absolution. Set in 600AD when Ireland is converting to Christianity, Sister Fidelma is an advocate with status next to a king who with her eventual boy friend Eadulf, a Saxon solves mysteries in the realm. Don't be discouraged by the first book... it is an introduction, good as such but the series gets better as you go.

American Frontier Fiction

I like more than the Louis L'amour or Zane Grey type books.

Walk in My Soul by Lucia St. Clair Robson is excellent describing the plight of the Cherokee. I would read anything by Ms. Robson

Comanche Dawn by Mike Blakely is excellent describing the beginnings of the Comanche tribe and the use of the horse in their culture

I could go on ( I like Asian Historical fiction as well as others). Also this is just a sampling of my likes within each category.

Dive in and enjoy :)

Edited: Jan 30, 2016, 3:07pm Top

Pretty much anything by Rosemary Sutcliff or Bryher. Most of Sutcliff's are YA books, but they are very good indeed. I think Kristen Lavransdatter, a Nobel Prize winner by Sigrid Undset to be the finest historical novel ever written. I am haunted by Wallace Breem's Eagle in the Snow.

It's a lot easier if we have some idea of what period interests you. There are magnificent novels out there, as well as some really awful stuff.

And anything by Mary Renault, of course.

Apr 8, 2016, 12:05pm Top

Some of Wilbur Smith's books are fun. I really liked The River God and it's follow up The Seventh Scroll. The rest of that series kind of drifted off into a strange combination of historical fiction/fantasy mish-mash that I didn't enjoy at all.
Bernard Cornwell is one of my favorite authors. I have enjoyed all I have read of his stuff, including the Saxon series.
Pillars of the Earth and World without End by Ken Follett are good, fun reads. They are a series in that they take place in the same place, albeit 500 years apart. He also has a few stand alone HF books that I remember enjoying although not as much as those mentioned.

Apr 8, 2016, 1:09pm Top

>5 tjm568: 90% of Wilbur Smith books before 1997 are excellent reads. The later books become less researched and have more T&A in content, for me I stopped reading his works beginning with Birds of Prey in 1997... I did like Monsoon though but after I have not read a single book by him... I understand that now he co-authors his books.

I read every book in the Courtney series ending with Golden Fox and because of it I think I understand the development of apartheid in South Africa. Mandela is noted in that last book and I often thought he should have continued that series to the point of Mandela being released.

I liked the Ballantyne series as well dealing mostly with Rhodesia and his earlier stand alone novels were great reads.

Smith researched his novels so well that you could smell the grass as you stalked your prey on a safari hunt. He always had a strong male AND female character in his novels giving them appeal to male and female readers.

I heartily recommend the Courtney series which must be read in order as the series unfolds like a soap opera as you follow a character from birth to adult and death. You would be lost if you read them out of order.

As far as favourite Wilbur smith novels go I would say

Courtney series
When the Lion Feeds
A sparrow Falls - WWI novel - this book brought a tear to my eye regarding a young boy turned sniper
A Time to Die - a Courtney novel but could be read as a stand alone. I loved the little bushman character

Ballantyne series
A Falcon Flies

Stand Alone
Elephant song a book on elephant poaching
Cry Wolf - Italy invades Ethiopia
River God - tied to the next novel but you must read it first to fully understand Seventh Scroll
Seventh Scroll

As far as Bernard Cornwell I did like and have collected all of his Sharp novels, The Grail series and Agincourt which really teaches you how important the English Long bow was to their wars. I had mixed feeling over the Starbuck series and have not liked the Saxon series at all. Cornwell is also noted for his sailing books and stand alone novels Gallows Thief

Edited: Apr 28, 2016, 8:29am Top

If you are interested in North American historical fiction, I would recommend the series: North America's Forgotten Past. There are about 8 books in the series, but they are all self-contained. The first in the series is People of the Wolf.

Edited: Apr 27, 2016, 11:04am Top

>7 tess_schoolmarm:, I don't know how the touchstone leads to Romeo and Juliet by default, but here's the correct one: People of the Wolf. 16 books in the Gear series now. I've only read People of the Lakes and felt so-so about it for writing quality, but kudos for this series' bringing attention to these settings.

Jun 29, 2016, 3:45am Top

A recent discovery for me was the Scottish historical novelist Dorothy Dunnett.

I pinched the following tribute to her from Wiki: Although Dunnett’s writing style is not the neutral prose of genre fiction and it can be opaque and hard to read, especially in the early works, at times, this works with the almost melodramatic content to produce a powerful, operatic mixture... It is neither as a literary novelist nor as a historian, but as a writer of historical fiction that Dorothy Dunnett deserves recognition.

Jun 29, 2016, 8:43pm Top

Dear me, the strange things you find on Wikipedia! Dorothy Dunnett was neither a literary novelist nor a historian - in addition to being a historical novelist she was actually a distinguished artist, a portrait painter. Not surprisingly she excels at description. I concur that her books are wonderful, due in part to the prodigious research which she did herself.

Interestingly, if you drill right down, she only has one plot; who is trying to kill the protagonist this time? The answer is always hidden in plain sight. She tells you no lies, the reader just thinks they're seeing one thing when actually she's describing something else. She uses exactly the same structure in her Dolly whodunnits, written under her maiden name Dorothy Halliday.

Group: Historical Fiction

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